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U.S. EX REL. WILLHITE v. WALLS

May 20, 2003

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. PIERRE WILLHITE, PETITIONER,
v.
JONATHAN R. WALLS RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James H. Alesia, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On January 9, 2003, the court granted in part and denied in part respondent's motion to dismiss. United States ex rel. Willhite v. Walls, 241 F. Supp.2d 882 (N.D. Ill. 2003). Currently before the court is petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 9, 1998, a jury in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois convicted petitioner Pierre Willhite ("Willhite") of first-degree murder. As a result, Willhite was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment of sixty years for his murder conviction and an additional six years for a home invasion conviction. Willhite filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated at trial and during review of his Illinois post-conviction petition.

Willhite appealed his conviction and sentence to the Appellate Court of Illinois, which affirmed the trial court's decision in an order dated June 14, 1999. Willhite then filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which was denied on October 6, 1999.

On June 28, 1999, Willhite filed a petition for post-conviction relief The Circuit Court of Cook County denied the petition on September 23, 1999. On appeal, Willhite's attorney sought leave to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987), because he believed that there were no meritorious issues on appeal. On June 19, 2009, the Appellate Court of Illinois granted the request to withdraw and affirmed the circuit court's judgment. On July 5, 2000, Willhite filed a petition for rehearing by the appellate court, which was denied on July 12, 2000. Ultimately, Willhite was granted leave to file a late petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois. The supreme court denied the petition on June 29, 2001.

Willhite filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, on June 17, 2002. In his petition, he raised four claims. The court, in its January 9, 2003 Memorandum Opinion, granted respondent's motion to dismiss as to three of Willhite's claims. Willhite's only remaining claim is that the prosecution bolstered its case with hearsay testimony, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him. Willhite's claim relates to the testimony of Chicago Police Detective David March ("March"). Respondent argues that Willhite's petition should be denied because: (1) Willhite procedurally defaulted the only claim in his petition that has not been dismissed and (2) Willhite's Confrontation Clause rights were not violated. First, the court will address the procedural default issue. Second, the court will review the merits of Willhite's Confrontation Clause claim.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Reviewing a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

A petitioner seeking a writ of habeas corpus must establish that the state court proceeding:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). See also Ellsworth v. Levenhagen, 248 E.3d 634, 638 (7th Gin 2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000)). A state court decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the law as set forth by the Supreme Court or if the state court addresses facts that are materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court decision and reaches a result different from the Supreme Court. Whitehead v. Cowan, 263 F.3d 708, 716 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). A state court decision is an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent when the state court identifies the proper governing precedent of the Supreme Court but unreasonably applies it to the facts or when the state court unreasonably extends Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that precedent to a context where it should apply. Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407). With this standard in mind, the court will review Willhite's petition for habeas corpus.

B. Procedural Default

Before reviewing the merits of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the court first must determine whether any of the petitioner's claims have been procedurally defaulted. A federal district court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus if the petitioner has procedurally defaulted his claims during the state law proceedings. Chambers v. McCaughtry, 264 F.3d 732, 737 (7th Cir. 2001). There are two different ways that a petitioner can procedurally default a claim: (1) by failing to raise a claim in the state court system and (2) presenting a claim to the state court system and having it rejected on an independent and adequate state ground. United States ex rel. Brunt v. Cowan, No. 00 C 5772, 2001 WL 521837, at *1 (N.D. Ill. May 16, 2001) (citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30 (1991)). The court finds that Willhite raised his Confrontation Clause claim on direct appeal.*fn1 Therefore, at issue in this case is only whether his claim is procedurally defaulted by being disposed of on an independent and adequate state ground.

Respondent argues that the Appellate Court of Illinois's determination that Willhite had waived his claim constituted an independent and adequate state ground. Willhite argues in response that the appellate court's decision did not constitute an independent and adequate state ground for the disposal of that claim.*fn2

A federal court will not review a question of federal law decided by a state court if that decision rests on state law grounds that are independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment. United States ex rel. Bell v. Pierson, 267 F.3d 544, 556 (7th Cir. 2001). A state law ground that provides the basis for a state court decision is independent when the court actually relied on the procedural bar as an independent basis for its disposition of the case. Id. (citing Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 261 (1989)). A state law ground is adequate when it is firmly established and regularly followed state practice at the time it is applied. Franklin v. Gilmore, 188 F.3d 877, 882 (7th Cir. 1999). First, the court will ...


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